Colombia to Clontarf: On the Deadly Trail of the Cocaine That Killed Gerry; How the Tentacles of the Trade in 'White Gold' Spread from the Jungles of South America to a Bar or Nightclub near You
Byline: SPECIAL INVESTIGATION by Brian Carroll
GERRY RYAN was living a staggering double life, consuming cocaine for at least 16 years, and in such quantities that he could no longer survive on his after-tax income of around [euro]5,000 a week.
If reports are correct, his voracious appetite for cocaine cost him as much as [euro]2,000 a week.
While many dispute these claims, the inescapable reality of the evidence at his inquest is that he was a regular user of cocaine, and that it killed him. Taking the drug for 16 years brought him into contact with characters embedded in the international drugs trade.
Like the 29,000 other regular cocaine users in Ireland, Gerry ryan may have regarded it as a recreational drug, but cocaine isn't called White Gold for nothing. It's a trade worth [euro]59.5billion a year, and Harvard University research says two-thirds of cocaine deaths annually are caused by homicide and suicide.
Detectives say ryan was getting his cocaine from a dealer three or four steps removed from Fat Freddie Thompson, a 30-year-old violent psychopath at the centre of the tit-fortat gangland killings which have ravaged the working-class heartlands of Drimnagh, Crumlin, Kimmage and Finglas. In the global trade for White Gold, Thompson is just a tiny player, but, like end users such as Gerry Ryan, he forms a vital link in the chain from Colombia to Clontarf.
The White Gold business begins in the dense forests of Colombia, where peasants in the pay of FARC guerillas pick the coca leaves that form the base paste from which cocaine is made. FARC - the self-styled revolutionary armed Forces of Colombia, which has less than 9,000 members - was largely responsible for the 16,000 murders in the country in 2008. With a population of 45million, Colombia has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and more than 17 per cent of the population lives in 'extreme poverty'.
Colombia produces more than half of the 865 tons of cocaine consumed every year. FARC guerillas, who, going back to the early Nineties have connections to the Ira, control the distribution, taxing everyone along the chain. FARC's ruling council, called estado Mayor, has been imposing a 'tax' on each stage of cocaine production for nearly 20 years now. Everyone in the drugs trade pays a tithe - a percentage tax - to FARC: The peasant farmers producing the coca paste; the laboratory workers who add chemicals to the peasant's paste to make cocaine powder; and the South american gangs who export the drugs to Venezuala, and on to the U.S. and Europe, feeding the world's 13.4million cocaine users.
According to the Colombia Drugs Observatory, 2.2million hectares of forest have been cleared in Colombia to produce the plant known as Erythroxylum coca. In homemade paste pits known as pozos, peasant farmers add up to 12 chemicals - known as the dirty dozen - to dried coca leaves, grinding them into coca paste.
The Colombia Drugs Observatory, and BBC reporters in Colombia, both report that cement is sometimes added as a thickening agent, along with sulphuric acid, ammonia, sodium carbonate, and kerosene.
Coca paste is so commonplace that national Geographic magazine found Colombian farmers using it to buy food in local shops, because, despite relatively low inflation of 3.8 per cent, paste is still considered more reliable than their local currency, the Colombian peso. A peasant farmer can make [euro]300 profit on a kilogram of cocaine paste, twice the monthly minimum wage.
The farmer sells a kilo of paste for [euro]750 but [euro]450 of this goes on his costs, and taxes to FARC. The paste, an offwhite to brown putty-like substance, is then converted into cocaine. In other countries such as Bolivia the paste is converted into a cocaine base first and then into cocaine hydrochloride, but in Colombia, they convert the paste into cocaine hycrochloride in laboratories hidden deep in forests. When hydrochloric acid is added, it crystallises and, with the aid of fans and microwaves, it eventually dries to a powder.
The cocaine comes to Ireland via Venezuela, where South american drug gangs, again paying taxes to FARC guerillas, collect their shipments in port towns such as Puerto la Cruz. The cocaine arrives at the ports pre-packed, usually in white sack bales made of the type of fabric used in coal bags. Each bale usually contains 25 one-kilo packages of cocaine measuring ten by five inches. The bale is then encased in black buoyant rubber, vacuum-packed in plastic - with the dual purpose of allowing the drugs be dropped at a buoy-point at sea for collection if necessary, and to protect it in case any falls overboard. Each 25-kilo bale would have a street value of [euro]1.75million.
The drugs are usually brought by sea from Venezuela to one of the Caribbean islands, often Guadeloupe, where they are transferred to an ocean-going catamaran. A 35ft catamaran, which can be bought for as little as [euro]60,000, is capable of transferring 1.5 tons of cocaine from Guadeloupe to Spain or Ireland in approximately four weeks. The Lucky Day catamaran, which transported [euro]440million of pure cocaine from Colombia to West Cork in 2007, took possession of the drugs on the island of Margarita between Venezuela and Guadeloupe, arriving off Mizen Head four weeks later.
From Guadeloupe, the haul either goes north west to the U.S. or, if the drugs are europe-bound, east towards Africa. 'From Guadeloupe, they sometimes go to the azores, maybe stopping in Horta on the island of Faial. From there they can go straight to Ireland or to Spain,' a source said.
Typically they follow what's nicknamed Highway 10, bringing the drugs from Venezuela, via Guadeloupe, up the West africa coast, with deposits along the way in countries such as Guinea-Bissau, between Guinea and Senegal. The 250,000 U.S. embassy cables published by WikiLeaks feature warnings about west African states like Ghana being taken over by cocaine dealers flooding the countries with product en route to Spain.
Once the cocaine catamaran has passed West Africa, somewhere in the North Atlantic the bales are transferred to fishing boats or rigid inflatable boats to avoid customs. Though catamaran captains can draw up false logs to hide their route, the GPS technology on the boat keeps a digital record of where the boat has come from. It's easier for a fishing trawler to get past customs with the drugs.
From Spain, the drugs come overland through France and Germany to the UK and Ireland, using car ferries and bogus companies like T.S. Foods. A man using a fake passport in the name of Thomas Stokes, established T.S Foods in Ireland in 2007. He was an associate of Christy Kinahan, a 52-year-old father of three from Dublin currently charged with running Europe's biggest cocaine empire.
T.S. Foods, not to be confused with a legitimate Northern Ireland company of the same name, imported foodstuffs and nappies from England and Spain for a period, in order to establish credibility with customs and a history on the shipping lines.
After a while, however, a fleet of trucks registered to T.S. Foods began importing cannabis, cocaine and heroin, literally by the truckload. Drug gangs would collect their part of the consignment from two warehouses registered to T.S. Foods, one in Clondalkin, the other in Clonroney, Newbridge, and distribute the drugs in their own area. The gangs involved in this co-op system were from Limerick and Dublin, and Fat Freddie Thompson's gang was one of them.
'On the first couple of runs, this company's trucks would bring in foodstuffs, water and nappies,' a source said. 'But in later runs the trucks would have boxes of nappies at the front and the rest of the cargo was product [drugs].'
Some 30 companies, controlled by Kinahan's gang, were set up to launder the proceeds of the T.S. Foods drugs co-op. Kinahan's arrest was the culmination of Operation Shovel, established in February 2008, after a drug dealer was discovered transferring cannabis from a T.S. Foods warehouse operating near Newbridge, Co. Kildare.
Operation Shovel confirmed that drug importation works like any other business. You buy in bulk, negotiate a discount, add your profit margin, and sell the product to the next person in the distribution chain. Dublin dealers such as Fat Freddie Thompson would send lieutenants to T.S. Foods' warehouse in Clondalkin and bring the cocaine to safe houses where other gang members 'step on' the drug, adding another layer of profit margin before the drug arrives on the street.
That gram of Colombian cocaine that was sold for [euro]4 per gram before it left port has its weight trebled by adding bulking agents including baking soda, baby milk powder, lignocaine (a dental anaesthetic) or Levamisole, which is used to treat liver fluke in sheep and cattle. Levamisole was found in Gerry Ryan's blood, the post-mortem showed. The original one gram of cocaine bought for [euro]4, is now sold as three, at a cost of [euro]200, a 50-fold profit.
Once the drug is repackaged into ounces ([euro]1,200), eight balls ([euro]200) and single wraps - one-gram hits costing [euro]70 - and in the hands of dealers like Fat Freddie Thompson's gang members, the drugs move down the line to subordinate dealers who service everyone from users in working-class housing estates of Crumlin, Finglas and Kimmage to dealers in Dublin's elite nightclubs. There are about 29,000 cocaine users in Ireland. One out of every two will obtain their cocaine at the home of a friend, while about 38 per cent get theirs at a nightclub or bar.
Several cases have highlighted the practise of Dublin nightclubs using designated dealers. They often operate with the knowledge of doormen linked to ex-IRA activists who now control protection rackets in the capital.
In his private life, Gerry Ryan somehow hid a 16-year drug habit from his family and partner, Melanie Verwoerd. In his public life, he hid it from his employers, some colleagues, and ultimately his 300,000 daily listeners. In his secret life, he was lying even to himself, promising to stop, believing until the end, despite the evidence of his body, that he could afford just one more line.
The high life: Cocaine user Gerry Ryan on holiday with his wife Morah
A link in the chain: Fat Freddie Thompson…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Colombia to Clontarf: On the Deadly Trail of the Cocaine That Killed Gerry; How the Tentacles of the Trade in 'White Gold' Spread from the Jungles of South America to a Bar or Nightclub near You. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: Daily Mail (London). Publication date: December 18, 2010. Page number: 12. © 2007 Daily Mail. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.